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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2002

Updates to Bible translate into controversy

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A new translation of the world's best-selling Bible is being readied for publication and while translators say the changes improve accuracy and clarity, some conservative Christian leaders are pinning the dreaded “political correctness” label on the revisions.

Advance copies of the translation, called Today's New International Version, have been released to church leaders and media. The new translation is the result of several years of work by members of the International Bible Society and the Committee on Bible Translation, the two groups responsible for the top-selling New International Version of the Bible first published in 1978.

Zondervan, the Grand Rapids, Mich., publishing house, will release the New Testament segment of the TNIV in April. The complete text with the Old Testament is scheduled for release in 2005.

Approximately 7 percent of the NIV text was changed in the TNIV, according to Judy Billings, public relations manager for the IBS in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gender accuracy led to changes in 1.68 percent of the text while clarity of meaning sparked revisions in 2.85 percent of the text, the IBS said.

The gender changes have been the lightning rod for many TNIV critics.

Dr. James Dobson, high-profile psychologist, author, and founder of Focus on the Family, said he would not endorse the TNIV, calling it a “step backward in the field of biblical translation.” In a statement, he said he will “continue to speak out against any effort that alters God's Word or toys with translation methodology for the sake of `political correctness.'”

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement about the TNIV: “When you start changing words to fit the culture, you are bowing down in an idolatrous way to the gods of gender neutrality that seem to reign in the secular culture and have invaded some church pews and pulpits.”

“The term `gender neutral' has been used in error to describe inclusive language in the text,” Ms. Billings said. “The TNIV is gender accurate. Gender neutrality suggests removal of male or female attributes. The TNIV does not remove these attributes nor does it neuter any scripture.”

Without exception, she said, the TNIV retains masculine language for both nouns and pronouns when referring to God.

Such changes as replacing “sons” with “children” were made when the translators felt that the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic text intended to include both males and females.

Between 15 and 20 Bible and language scholars worked on the new translation and any changes to the NIV text required unanimous support from all members of the CBT, Ms. Billings said.

“This new rendition builds on the NIV,” Ms. Billings said. “It offers a new choice to Christians with clarity of modern language and accuracy. At the same time, those who love and trust the NIV will continue to have access to it.”

“English is always changing,” said Dr. Ronald Youngblood, chair of the IBS board of directors and a member of the Committee on Bible Translation. “As a result we must continue the work of translation to guarantee that the Bible is accurately communicated in the language of the day.”

Revisions made to update the NIV's language include replacing the word “tunic” with “shirt,” describing Mary as “pregnant” instead of “with child,” and replacing “the sixth hour” with “noon.”

Zondervan said it will continue to publish and fully support the NIV translation, of which more than 150 million copies have been sold. The majority of NIV users are Protestants. There are no NIV versions that include the additional biblical books used by Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches.

Among those who have voiced their support of the TNIV are author Philip Yancey; Christianity Today editor Timothy George, and Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

The IBS said in a statement that “nearly every new translation is controversial in the beginning,” citing as an example the furor over the King James Version when it first was printed in 1611.

Ms. Billings said the translation team had expected, and even welcomed, some criticism.

“Any time you're working on a new translation, there are some that are skeptical or wanting to question the credentials of the people that were involved. I think it's good, it's healthy, to question why it was done and how the work was done. We welcome any questions.”



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